NICU babies befriend crochet octopi – and how you can help!

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In 2018, Hennepin Healthcare’s NICU celebrated 50 years of caring for our tiniest patients. That’s 50+ years of putting our preemie patients first; we’re always looking for ways to promote their safety and comfort, whether it’s a new innovation or something tried and true. This year, the crochet octopus entered the scene. A crochet octopus? Misty Easton from our NICU tells all and invites crafters to use their talents to support preemies:

What is your name and role at the Hennepin Healthcare NICU?

My name is Misty Easton and I am the Clinical Care Supervisor of Hennepin Healthcare’s neonatal intensive care unit.

How did crochet octopi for NICU babies first start?

Octopi in the NICU first appeared in European hospitals 3-4 years ago. A hospital in Denmark found that when premature babies cuddled with the octopi they had more regular heart rates and better oxygenation. The magic is in the tentacles! In utero, babies often ‘play’ with their umbilical cord. The tentacles resemble the umbilical cord for the baby! Another very important benefit it that the tentacles give the baby something to grasp other than things like their cannulas, endotracheal tubes or nasogastric tubes, lessening the chance that they will accidently pull something.

About a month ago, I was in the NICU and we had a very feisty little preemie.” She was very fussy, so I wrapped her and took her out of her incubator, or isolette, to hold and she kept getting her hands out of her swaddle and pulling on her nasogastric tube. I had to keep taking it out of her hand and tucking it back into her blanket. We did this for a good 15 minutes before she gave up and fell asleep. As we were disagreeing about her need to pull on her nasogastric tube, the octopus idea popped into my head. I contacted our infection prevention department and was given clearance and guidance on how to use and clean them.

Are there concerns for safe sleep with the octopi occupying the same space as baby?

Here at Hennepin we are very concerned for safe sleep and we know that parents learn best when they see safe sleep modeled in the unit. The NICU utilizes “sleep positioning” cards that indicate if the baby is to be in his or her “home sleep environment” (our term for a safe sleep environment) or if they are allowed to be in “therapeutic sleep positions.” Premature babies have therapeutic positioning needs that require us to use supports such as blanket rolls and benefit from sleeping on their stomachs. When the baby meets a set of developmental goals, the infant will be placed in their home sleep environment where all extra blankets and positioning supports are removed. We give families safe sleep education at this time and throughout the rest of their baby’s stay.

When a baby is given an octopus, we will explain to parents what the purpose of the octopus is, how long it will be in the isolette with the baby and will emphasize how important it is that their baby does not sleep with stuffed animals when they are home. We have also decided that when a baby gets big enough to be in a crib, the octopus will be taken out and given to the families to take home. This typically happens a month or more before the baby goes home.

How important is it for NICU babies to feel safe?

It is of utmost importance! All of the care that we give in the NICU is done with their developmental needs in mind. When a baby is born too early, it changes the way the baby’s brain develops. This is why we:

  • Keep lights down lower
  • Cover isolettes
  • Keep noise levels to a minimum, and
  • Handle and position the babies the way we do.

Ideally, we try to have the babies do kangaroo care (also known as skin-to-skin care) as often as they can tolerate it. However, they often do not tolerate this as much as we, and their moms, would like. Moms can place the octopus against her skin and cover it with her scent. When we put the octopus in with the baby, he or she will be able to have mom’s scent close to them. While this isn’t the same as kangaroo care, babies respond well to it.


Misty and her team are excited for the support from the crafting community. If you’re interested in donating octopi for our preemie babies, you can find patterns here. Octopi can be sent to:

Hennepin Healthcare NICU
Attn: Molly Davis
701 Park Avenue
Minneapolis, MN 55415

If you have questions, please feel free to contact Misty Easton directly at 612-873-9615.


  1. Theresa Ehrich on January 11, 2021 at 2:39 am

    Hi Molly
    I am thinking of crocheting some octopus for the preemies but just checking to ask if you still are accepting them. Please advise
    Thank you

  2. Theresa Ehrich on January 11, 2021 at 2:42 am

    Thank you

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